Curriculum and assessment reforms are hitting SEND pupils, says NAHT

Written by: Chris Parr | Published:

​Swingeing reforms to the national curriculum and assessment criteria are compromising the educational outcomes of pupils with SEND, according to a new analysis published earlier this month.

The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) report finds that real-terms cuts to education funding in the last three years have stretched school budgets, and that SEND pupils are among those most affected.

The report highlights a 21 per cent increase in the number of pupils with statements or Educational Health Care Plans (EHCP) between 2014 and 2017. This equates to 50,000 additional pupils in the UK with such statements, with 31,000 of these entering the system between 2016 and 2017 alone.

According to the NAHT, the raft of reforms to curriculum and assessment have resulted in “a less accessible curriculum for those with SEND in mainstream primary and secondary schools”.

It cites last year’s State of Education report, which found that 79 per cent of school leaders believe that the current national curriculum requirements “are not providing the best outcomes for all pupils in mainstream education”.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT, said the analysis “provides clear evidence that there is both increased pressure on the costs per pupil and increased demand for support for children and young people with the most complex special educational needs”.

NAHT’s head of policy, Valentine Mulholland, added: “Children with the highest levels of need are paying the biggest price for the government’s real terms cuts to education. The system is now under unsustainable pressure; this makes it harder for mainstream settings to be inclusive.”

Meanwhile, at the NAHT’s annual conference in Liverpool earlier this month education secretary Damian Hinds promised delegates that he wanted to see “a clearer system of accountability that will let good schools get on with their job”.

Mr Hinds announced a consultation to scrap the “confusing” system of having both floor and coasting standards to measure school performance, and replace it with a “single, transparent data trigger for schools to be offered support”.

He said: “Accountability is vital. Children only get one shot at an education and we owe them the best ... where they are being let down we need to take action quickly – so no-one ends up left behind. But what I’ve found from speaking to many of you these last few months is that there is also real confusion within the sector. I believe school leaders need complete clarity on how the accountability system will operate.”

Mr Hinds continued: “I’m clear that Ofsted is the body that can provide an independent, rounded judgement of a school’s performance. This means we will not be forcibly turning schools into academies unless Ofsted has judged it to be inadequate.”

The minister has set out his plans in a policy paper – Principles for a clear and simple school accountability system – published last week.

The policy paper adds: “There will be no more ‘inspections’ of schools by representatives of RSCs (Regional Schools Commissioners). Ofsted is the only body that can form an independent judgement about a school through inspection. RSC representatives going into schools and performing visits that can feel a lot like inspections can be confusing for schools, and can add to workload where there are additional requests for data. This will end.”

Mr Whitehead welcomed the secretary of state’s words, saying that accountability was “one of the main drivers of workload” and “a big reason why many talented people leave, and often a limiting factor on the ambitions of schools”.

"It's absolutely right that there should only be one agency with the remit to inspect schools. Clarity about the standards that are expected is just what we've been calling for,” he said.

"Removing the coasting and floor standards will do much to address the confusion felt by many school leaders. It will be important that the new support standard is set at the right level and helps direct rapid, high-quality, funded support to the schools that need it most.”

Principles for a clear and simple school accountability system, Department for Education, May 2018:

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